As a third-generation Californian and someone who is writing a book on California for the Atlantic Monthly Press, I read Jones' weekly column "On California" with great interest.
The column on Chavez, while it makes some good points, is extraordinarily misdirected. I left college to work for the United Farm Workers in 1975 and have kept track of the union's activities since then. Chavez made huge mistakes and undoubtedly contributed greatly to the UFW's decline. But to dismiss Deukmejian's role in systematically dismantling the Farm Labor Board and to ignore, as Jones did, the flood of immigrants willing to work for a pittance into the farm labor market, is ridiculous.
Jones presented the UFW's focus on pesticides as essentially a hustle designed to elicit contributions from gullible Anglos. For someone picking grapes, lettuce, or tomatoes in a field, the spraying of pesticides in that field is a matter of health and safety. And worker health and safety issues are clearly in the realm of trade unionism. Farm workers, as it happens, are excluded from protection under the Occupational Safety & Health Act.
Unions are sometimes reactionary forces in today's changing economic scene. Worse still, they are often irrelevant. By focusing on pesticides, Chavez seeks to make his union relevant to workers and consumers. He may or may not be right in all the specifics, but that's not the point here.